what should clients eat and drink
pre and post-exercise?

If your clients are running out of energy halfway through their sessions, they may need to change their eating strategies says Teresa Cutter. By doing so they can enhance performance, reduce fatigue and optimise post-workout recovery.

When I was working as a personal trainer, not a week went by when I didn’t see people virtually collapsing halfway through their workouts, unable to complete their sessions due to a failure to adequately fuel their bodies. Whether your clients are exercising for general health, fat loss or athletic gains, the nutritional strategy they have in place before and after training can enhance performance and reduce fatigue and dehydration, as well as promote optimal post-workout recovery.

In order to train efficiently and recover quickly you need to look at your chosen activity, how long it lasts, and the time of day you are working out. By doing so, you can determine a suitable nutritional strategy to assist in energy supply and recovery. What you eat and drink before your workout can enable the body to train to the best of its ability. Meals should generally be a mix of carbohydrate for energy and protein for repair.

Fuel your workout

The rule of thumb when exercising is to begin your workout well nourished, but with your stomach virtually empty. Pre-exercise nutrition should leave your body well hydrated and with enough glycogen to see you through your session in the best possible condition. Glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen. When we exercise, the liver breaks down its glycogen stores and releases the glucose into the bloodstream for energy. The muscles use this glucose, as well as their own reserves of glycogen, to fuel their work. When glycogen is depleted, the body becomes fatigued. The amount of carbohydrate we consume influences how much glycogen is stored and the amount we need depends on our activity level and exercise time. A piece of low GI fruit, like an orange or banana, a tub of yoghurt or a small protein drink consumed 30 minutes prior to exercise can stabilise energy levels and power the body through a 60-minute session. For exercise sessions longer than an hour, it is advisable to take along carbohydrate replacements such as electrolyte drinks, gels or diluted potassium-rich orange juice (to be mixed with water).

Hydrate well

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends beginning a workout in a well hydrated state: 250-500ml water consumed 15 minutes before training is ideal, and this hydration should be maintained with frequent sips of water during the session. It is also important to drink adequate volumes after exercise to avoid dehydration: 100ml for each 100g of bodyweight lost during workout is recommended. Sessions over one hour may result in the need for additional electrolytes.

Repair and recover

The body needs protein for repair and quality carbohydrates to replenish glycogen and electrolytes. Choose foods rich in potassium that will help regulate fluid balance in the body, lower blood pressure and aid nerve and muscle contraction. Recommended intake for potassium is 2800mg per day.

Consumption of several small protein-rich meals (each containing between 10 and 25g of protein) throughout the day after training is the best nutrition strategy for optimum protein synthesis. Good protein sources are fish, low fat dairy such as yoghurt, lean grass-fed beef and game meats, free range chicken, quinoa, eggs, nuts, seeds or a good natural WPI (whey protein isolate), or pea protein isolate for vegetarians. Good sources of carbohydrate that can be incorporated into daily meal plans include fresh fruit and vegetables such as banana, orange, papaya, kiwi fruit, pumpkin, spinach, tomato, sea vegetables, green beans, peas and sweet potato.

By helping clients pay more attention to what they eat and drink, as well as encouraging them to get enough rest, their bodies will have all the right ingredients to refuel and repair so they’ll be ready to blitz their next training sessions.


Teresa Cutter
Teresa is one of Australia’s leading authorities on healthy cooking and the founder of The Healthy Chef, a company dedicated to improving health and wellbeing. A qualified chef with over 20 years’ experience, as well as a nutritionist and fitness professional, she has combined her knowledge of food, diet and exercise to develop healthy recipes for people who love food but want to maximize their health and well-being. For more information visit www.thehealthychef.com